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A Portrait of Manu Ginobili

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The fifteenth in a series of profiles on each member of the 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs.

Manu Ginobili - oil on canvas
Manu Ginobili - oil on canvas
Michal Dye

I'll give you Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Clyde Drexler. After that I'm taking Manu over any two-guard from the 90's on.

Regular Season:
68 G, 22.8 MPG, 12.3 PTS, .469/.349/.851, 3.0 Rebs, 4.3 Ast, 1.0 Stl, 0.3 Blk, 2.0 TOs, +6.2 per game, 112.4 ORtg, 99.5 DRtg, .176 WS/48, 20.0 PER, 91 YTS Points

Playoffs:
23 G, 25.5 MPG, 14.3 PTS, .439/.390/.862, 3.3 Reb, 4.1 Ast, 1.6 Stl, 0.1 Blk, 2.3 TOs, +7.9 per game,  116.9 ORtg, 99.5 DRtg, .184 WS/48, 20.3 PER, 35 YTS Points

Manu-Ginobili-oil-portrait

Manu Ginobili- by Michal Dye

On June 15, 2014, Emanuel David Ginobili earned his enshrinement into the NBA Hall of Fame.

No, not the actual "Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame," that lumps all the people with a connection to the game, from the collegiate level to those who thrived in leagues overseas to coaches to people who made their bones in international tournaments. In that building there's no distinction for gender or competition level. In the eyes of the people who vote for the Basketball Hall of Fame -- the identities of the voting committee and its process is kept secret -- someone like Ralph Sampson, who dominated at the University of Virginia but had a relatively disappointing NBA career, was worthy of being in the same enshrinement class as Reggie Miller. Sarunas Marciulionis, who was a pioneer for Europeans in the NBA but not any kind of star, made a speech on the same stage as Alonzo Mourning. Dawn Staley, a six-time WNBA All-Star, shared a mic with Gary Payton.

Ginobili, one of the most accomplished international players of his generation, earned his spot for the real Hall a decade ago, leading Argentina to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, upsetting the U.S. team along the way, the only time since they started sending pros in 1992 that the U.S. didn't win the gold. If there was any question whether he belonged, Ginobili sealed it with a fantastic playoff run for the Spurs the following spring, leading San Antonio to the franchise's third championship in a hard-fought seven game Finals triumph over the Detroit Pistons.

Some may look at all this inclusion in the Hall as noble, the mingling of Euroleague and women's college basketball coaches with NBA legends. It's a safe bet that Gregg Popovich, for one, is a huge fan of the setup. But many NBA fans, historians and journalists, have been calling for the league to have its own Hall of Fame, exclusively to honor the greats of the world's top league, those who excelled at the highest level over the course of a career.

Ginobili's greatness, when discussed in NBA circles, has always had various asterisks attached to it, left-handed compliments for a left-handed marvel. His counting stats were never overwhelming. He's only made two All-Star teams (though he was deserving of many more). He missed too many games with injuries and didn't average enough minutes in the games he did play. And he came off the bench more often than not.

When Ginobili played poorly overall in the 2013 Finals, it seemed as though a large group of basketball media was ready to dance on his grave. He was singularly criticized among the Spurs even though numerous teammates didn't play well down the stretch of that series. Magic Johnson implored him to retire and Charles Barkley declared him finished. No one seemed to care about context --  that perhaps it wasn't ideal to ask a 35-year-old shooting guard accustomed to playing half a game to play 35 minutes at the point because Tony Parker was limping around on a bad hamstring. No one seemed to notice that Ginobili, along with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, were the only three Spurs to show up for Game 7 after the Game 6 meltdown.

Not even five minutes after the fact did anyone care to remember that Ginobili was one 50/50 foul call from being at the free-throw line with a chance to win the NBA Finals? Jeff Van Gundy, working the game for ABC, thought Ray Allen committed a foul and replays confirm as much.

To be fair, Ginobili suffered the slings primarily because he's always been the biggest culprit in keeping his profile low. There just hasn't been anyone like him in the league in years. His humility is not an act. The man simply does not care about his statistics. He's had chances to stay in games to chase triple-doubles, 50 points, or other milestones and willingly checked out once the outcome was decided. He does not care whether he starts or not. He never asks to be promoted for All-Star teams. He has never hyped his own game or spoken of himself as being in the same class of player as a Kobe Bryant, even though for years, many of the league's advanced analytics suggested that he was.

Indeed, Ginobili may be the league's first true analytic superstar, someone far more appreciated by the nerds than some casual fans or even the TV analysts. Year after year he's been among the two or three best at his position in PER, the metric created by John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN and now in the Memphis Grizzlies front office, to measure efficiency. While more celebrated shooting guards like Miller, Ray Allen, Vince Carter and Joe Johnson were garnering the plaudits, Ginobili was dusting them all in PER, finishing just behind Dwyane Wade and Bryant in Hollinger's stat.

Ginobili came into the league with a game that was a decade ahead of its time. All he did was go to the rim and finish -- often spectacularly -- at a high rate, or he'd get to the line, or he'd shoot threes. He rebounded and passed well for his position. Most important of all though: He hardly ever took mid-range jumpers, the bane of every NBA statistician.

His trademark wasn't efficiency but rather an odd mix of fearlessness and showmanship. There are countless YouTube tributes to Ginobili, cataloging his various nutmegs, behind-the-back dribbles and bullet passes through thickets of arms, legs and bodies. From day one he's played with zero deference to the league's legends. It's like nobody told him that somebody who's where he's from is not supposed to embarrass the Kobes and D-Wades of the world by swatting them emphatically or by dunking on the entire Lakers front line.

Combine those two factors -- the complete lack of interest in getting his own numbers and the refusal to stay in the "role-player" box designated for anyone who doesn't score 20 a night -- and there was something akin to a backlash against the Argentine just because his mentality was unheard of in American culture. How could a Hall of Famer not care about starting? If he's capable of the extraordinary, why is he only taking nine shots a night? It's completely opposed to how we think about modern athletes. Seemingly every conceivable lineup permutation the Spurs ever used the past dozen years worked better with him than without him, and often at league-leading rates of efficiency, regardless of what his own stats were. And no one could figure out why.

Ginobili's secret strength has always been his ability to be basketball's answer to MacGyver. Instead of having one specialty like his contemporaries Allen and Miller, he's always been flexible, being able to contribute whatever was lacking and needed on a given night, whether it was playmaking, defense, a critical rebound or a burst of scoring. Sometimes -- quite often, actually -- not much at all was required of him and in those games Ginobili usually floated along, contributing a highlight here or there but nothing of consequence to the box score. More often than not though, he was vital, in one way or another.

In a way, Ginobili's habit of going supernova in Spurs rallies was a microcosm of his seasons as a whole. Just as he was a "per-minute-superstar" someone whose numbers looked terrific once you extrapolated them to the standard 36-minute rate, so it was in games. You never know when it's going to happen -- though it often comes when the Spurs are trailing at home in the second half -- but something in Manu clicks, and all of a sudden, he transforms into the best player on the planet, for a four- to six-minute stretch. He makes every impossible shot. He sets teammates up for easy baskets. There are steals, offensive rebounds, charges drawn. He's like a cross between "The Tasmanian Devil" and "The Incredible Hulk." He's a 17-2 run, personified. Ginobili single-handedly turns losses into wins and nail-biters into blowouts.

And he's done it for a dozen years.

Ginobili professes to not be motivated by revenge, but your eyes and the numbers tell you different. After having to endure a season's worth of questions about his 2013 postseason, he was the team's best player in the first round against Dallas. He took the second round off against Portland because Parker and Leonard were destroying the Blazers in the "Gentlemen's Sweep." But against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that had knocked the Spurs out two seasons ago, his best was needed. Ginobili was sharp enough to produce a 28.5 PER, as high a mark as he had in any playoff series since 2005. He saved the Spurs from needing a Game 7 by hitting a three late in regulation at Oklahoma City, and San Antonio prevailed in overtime.

But the real test was the Finals. How would Ginobili do against Miami when all those memories came flooding back? He'd averaged just 4.5 points in two regular-season games against them, making just 4 of 13 shots. Maybe they just had his number.

Or maybe he had some numbers for them. In the first quarter of Game 1, Ginobili canned three consecutive threes and had nine points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block, finishing with 16 points and 11 assists.

When the series shifted to Miami, Ginobili didn't force the issue. The Heat's game plan was to trap he and Parker heavily. Time and again, the Spurs guards made the right play, got the ball to Boris Diaw and Leonard, and came away with two blowout wins. Their own stats were pedestrian, but those who noticed that missed the point.

Back in San Antonio in Game 5, the Heat threw their one last uppercut, roaring to a 22-6 start while the Spurs started in a daze. Ginobili's three-point play got the Spurs off the mat and he dropped in a moon-scraping three shortly after. He scored eight more in the second quarter, punctuated by this play.

Again it was Allen who tried to tangle arms with Ginobili, just as he had in Game 6 the year before. Again Ginobili didn't get the foul call, but this time he had a better grip on the ball, he was a step closer to the rim and he'd had a year to think about how Allen, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat had denied him a championship. He had a year to consider how done he supposedly was.

So with that dunk, I give you one Emanuel David Ginobili. A four-time NBA champion and integral member of three Spurs titles. One of the best two-guards of all time. A fully deserving member of the NBA Hall of Fame, now and forever.